The People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Boost Your Brain Power: Munch Chocolate!

A long-term study of older people shows that those who often munch chocolate score better on tests of memory and organization.

A long-term study has found that people who munch chocolate frequently do better on tests of cognitive function than those who abstain.

This intriguing finding is from a long-term population study designed to figure out how lifestyle factors affect aging, cardiovascular disease and cognition. The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study recruited people starting in 1975.

Those Who Munch Chocolate a Few Times a Week Test Smarter:

In 2001 to 2006, 968 volunteers went through cognitive tests. Analysis of the data revealed that those who ate chocolate more than once a week had significantly higher scores on tests of visual-spatial memory, organization, scanning and tracking and the MMSE (mini-mental status exam).

The study did not differentiate between milk chocolate and dark chocolate, although prior research suggests that high-flavanol dark chocolate can benefit brain function.

Appetite, online Feb. 10, 2016

Why Does Chocolate Benefit the Brain?

Previous research has shown that flavanol-rich chocolate supports the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus of the brain (Nature Neuroscience, Dec., 2014). Because this part of the brain is intimately involved in memory, researchers suspect that those who munch chocolate often have better memory capacity.

Cocoa Compounds for Blood Pressure and Heart Disease:

In addition, research has shown that cocoa flavanol compounds can make blood vessels more flexible and lower blood pressure by stimulating the lining of blood vessels to produce nitric oxide (Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine, Dec., 2015). Other studies have shown that those who often munch chocolate with a high flavanol content lower their likelihood of heart disease, heart attack and death from cardiovascular causes (British Journal of Nutrition, Oct. 28, 2014).

Chocolate Against Diabetes?

In addition, cocoa flavanols have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity (Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, online Jan. 29, 2016). Regular consumption might be able to delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, but that would be more likely when you munch chocolate that is low in sugar.

Would You Munch Chocolate to Reverse Wrinkles?

The question is not entirely hypothetical. Research in Korea showed that older women who were given a high-flavanol or a placebo beverage daily for six months had visible differences in their skin. Those consuming the cocoa compounds had more elastic skin and less prominent facial wrinkles (Journal of Nutrition, Jan., 2016).

If you are interested in the benefits of chocolate, you may wish to listen to our People’s Pharmacy radio show on the topic.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Show 939: Health Benefits of Chocolate (Archive)
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Chocolate, delicious as it is, may appear to be nothing more than empty calories. Research has shown, however, that chocolate has very real health benefits. We discuss what those benefits are.

Show 939: Health Benefits of Chocolate (Archive)
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Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is a great “satisfier” and a healthier substitute for highfat/sugar desserts. However, Consumer Lab’s testing of chocolate shows many brands contain lead and/or cadmium – not good!. I now buy the “Endangered Species” brand that CL’s testing shows has neither of these unhealthy chemicals. Again, you think you are doing something good for your body, only to learn there are hidden negatives. Thanks for your wonderful work and that of CL to help us navigate this crazy landscape!

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